ST. PARIS – Longtime St. Paris resident and village council member Larry D. Watkins died Monday at Springfield Regional Medical Center.
The son of the late Harry and Eva Jane (Gillman) Watkins, Watkins was born on Oct. 17, 1946, in Shelby County. Watkins’ sister, Anne Shaffer, told the Daily Citizen Thursday the family moved to St. Paris in the early 1960s and Watkins graduated from Graham High School before graduating from Edison State College.
For 30 years, Watkins was a dispatcher and clerk for the Urbana Fire Division until he retired in 2008.
Urbana Fire Division Chief Mark Keller said Watkins was responsible for handling ambulance billing and assisting former chiefs Eugene Branstiter and Jim McIntosh with administrative paperwork.
“He’s probably almost like Radar from MASH,” Keller said. “Anything you wanted to know he was able to tell you as far as the day-to-day operations of the fire department. He was very, very knowledgeable in what we did there and provided a lot of help and was always fun to work with.”
David Torsell, Code Enforcement and Investigations Manager for the Urbana Fire Division, was a member of Box 13 when Watkins started working with the division in the mid 1970s. Torsell said Watkins started in a program where his first job was covering dispatch and clerical duties at night.
“Those of us that were in Box 13 who had jobs during the day, that’s the time we got to see Larry so we got to spend quite a bit of time with him and got to be very close friends,” Torsell said. “I was hired on full-time at the fire department in January of 1977 and Larry was hired on in October so we sort of got hired the same time.”
Torsell said Watkins was at the fire division every day compared to the every third day schedule for most firefighters.
“Larry kept a close eye on everything that was done and needed to be done around the engine house and just with the dispatch and some of the other clerical work and things that chief (Branstiter) would pass on,” Torsell said. “Larry was a lot of the time the go between for ‘do you know what’s going on here’ and Larry would always tell you ‘this is what I know, I’m not telling you it’s exact but this is what I know’ and he pretty much kept up on things to make sure that people knew what needed to be done and if someone would call in he would always pass on that information.”
Throughout his time with the fire division, Torsell said, Watkins was not only on top of what he needed to do, but also would remind people of important things that needed to get done.
“If there was something that needed to be done that you might get in trouble for, Larry would make sure you knew it and make sure that you carried it out so you didn’t get yourself in trouble,” Torsell said. “He was kind of a catch-all person up there and I think that’s one of the reasons why everybody liked him.”
Torsell said Watkins had a great rapport with the public.
Outside the fire division, Shaffer said, Watkins was a lifetime member of the Mad River Valley Rabbit and Cavy Breeders Association and used to raise rabbits, showing them at conventions. Shaffer said Watkins was asked to judge rabbits at different fairs.
“There were several fairs that would call him and ask him to judge the 4-H rabbits for the kids,” Shaffer said. “He always told the kids why their rabbit didn’t win so that they would be educated on rabbits.”
Starting in 1979, Shaffer said, Watkins owned The Stage Coach restaurant in St. Paris for six-and-a-half years. Watkins would work there in the evening after finishing his job with the Urbana Fire Division.
“I had a very young family then – four sons – and we spent a lot of hours over there,” Torsell said. “Larry became very close to my family, took my sons fishing over at Kiser Lake, always gave them money to play the games that he had at his restaurant when my kids were little. He loved kids.”
“Even at home he loved to cook,” Shaffer said. “He couldn’t just fix a sandwich, it was a big production. If he could’ve been a chef he would have loved it.”
Watkins served on village council and the JSP Fire District Board for 17 years and was still an active member of both boards.
St. Paris Village Administrator Joe Sampson knew Watkins for more than 20 years.
“Whenever I would sit and talk with Larry, as far as not council-related or not fire-related but just to sit and talk to Larry as a friend, he always made you feel like one of his family members,” Sampson said. “Just a very, very genuinely nice person who’d pretty much do anything in the world for you.”
Sampson said Watkins was passionate about the village and proud to be part of the village through council and the fire board.
“He took his role on council and as he sat on the fire board very seriously,” Sampson said. “He was on a few different committees over the course of time, but mostly on the police committee and poured his heart and soul into that position. I just have not probably been around a more passionate person in my lifetime – he was just such a very, very dedicated person to his role that he played in the village.”
St. Paris Mayor Joe Reneer said in the years he got to know Watkins they spent many nights working for the village.
“In the time that I got to spend with him I feel (the relationship) became more than co-workers. We became friends,” Reneer said. “He was a person I could ask for advice from. His years of knowledge and experience will truly be missed but most of all I will miss the conversations. Every aspect of Larry was service to others. He was simply put a great man who did great things.”
JSP Joint Fire District Chief Scott Massie said Watkins was the current president of the fire board and had been the board president since 2012. The board oversees the operations of the fire district.
“Larry loved serving on the fire board,” Massie said. “To me that was his true love and he was always there – I don’t think he missed but a handful of meetings in the 17 years. He just enjoyed being in that service but did not want any of the limelight.”
Massie said Watkins was a level-headed person who looked at the total picture and did not make any rash decisions while keeping the community first and foremost in his thought process.
“He is going to be dearly missed, and he’s a good friend and a good man,” Massie said.
While Watkins was not a firefighter, Torsell said he gained the respect and compassion of firefighters to the same degree firefighters have for each other. Torsell described Watkins as a person who was not elaborate about anything when it came to himself.
During the visitation and funeral services on Saturday, Torsell said, fire personnel from the Urbana Fire Division and JSP will stand guard at Watkins’ coffin. Torsell said it is appropriate in fire services that when a firefighter dies, other firefighters stand guard and stay with the body at the coffin until the firefighter is buried.
“The fact that we’re standing guard at his coffin shows the respect that he gained from other people,” Torsell said. “We know that he wouldn’t like it but we also know with Larry’s temperament he’d been mad at us and then he would’ve thanked us for it. It is a privilege for us to stand guard by such a dear friend.”
Funeral services will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Cromes Funeral Home, 302 S. Main Ave., Sidney. Burial will follow at Cedar Point Cemetery in Pasco. Friends may call Saturday from 10 a.m. until hour of service.
Memorial contributions may be made in Watkins’ honor to JSP Fire and EMS District, P.O. Box 648, St. Paris, OH 43072 or Urbana Fire Department, 205 S. Main Street, Urbana, OH 43078.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.